When someone else’s actions cause the death of a loved one, grieving family members often wonder what comes next. The person responsible for the death can be held accountable in either criminal or civil court, or both. The complexity of navigating the criminal and civil structures after a death may require assistance from compassionate Arlington Heights wrongful death attorneys.
Understanding Criminal Complaints
In Arlington Heights, the Cook County State’s Attorney files the criminal complaint on behalf of the state. The person responsible for the death, known as the defendant, is then charged with one of the following crimes: first degree murder, second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, or reckless homicide. These attorneys would differ from a wrongful death attorney that may help you with a civil complaint.
For a First Degree Murder conviction, the state must prove multiple elements, beyond a reasonable doubt. First, it must be shown that the defendant had the intent to cause great bodily harm, or to kill the now-deceased individual. Then, that this individual understand that their actions would likely cause this harm and that, lastly, when the death occurred, the defendant committed a felony that had a direct connection to this death. This is known as the Felony Murder rule.
What is Second-Degree Murder?
For a Second-Degree Murder conviction, the state must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, parts (1) and (2) of First-Degree Murder charges discussed above. However, the state charges a defendant with Second-Degree Murder when at least one of the following mitigating factors are also present:
- The deceased individual provoked the defendant
- The defendant believed they had the right of self-defense, given the circumstances
Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide
For Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide, the state must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant acted without having any legal justification, and in a manner that could and, in fact, did result in the unintentional death of another person. Reckless Homicide applies to the defendant was driving a vehicle at the time the death occurred.
Notice that the state must always prove that the defendant acted beyond a reasonable doubt. What does that mean? Beyond a reasonable doubt is the burden of proof required in all criminal cases to ensure that the jury or judge deciding the case has absolutely no uncertainty that the defendant committed the crime. If the state cannot meet that burden, the court must acquit the defendant of the charges. But where criminal complaints might not satisfy the bereaved, civil complaints can help the family see some justice.
The Wrongful Death Act sets the standards for civil complaints in Illinois. If someone’s wrongful act, negligence, or default resulted in the death of another, the injured party may sue for monetary damages. Where the injured party and plaintiff would normally be the deceased person, family members may step in as the plaintiff and sue on his or her behalf.
The family members first should find experienced Arlington Heights wrongful death attorneys, like the lawyers at the Law Offices of R.F. Wittmeyer, Ltd. The attorneys could help you understand the differences between the legal standards of the criminal suit and the civil suit you are investigating.
But it is important to talk to a lawyer soon as there is a time limit for wrongful death civil complaints based upon the cause of death.
- If the person responsible for the death was convicted of a criminal act (discussed above), then the plaintiff may sue within one year of that verdict.
- If the death was the result of violent and intentional conduct (also discussed above), then the plaintiff may sue within five years after the date of death.
- In the case of negligence, however, then the plaintiff may sue within two years after the date of death.
The Burden of Proof
Where the burden of proof is extremely high for criminal complaints, civil complaints for wrongful death have a much lower burden. For a successful civil complaint, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, which means that the jury or judge must believe that the activity or negligence of the person responsible was the proximate cause of death.
Consider the famous case of O.J. Simpson. He was acquitted of criminal charges for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. But later, in a civil trial, a jury found him responsible for the deaths and ordered him to pay monetary damages. Civil suits for wrongful death are a way for families to take action against the one responsible for causing their loved one’s death, even in cases where the state was unable to get justice.
If you have recently lost a loved one based on the actions of another person, contact the hardworking Arlington Heights wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of R.F. Wittmeyer, Ltd. for a free consultation today.